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Santa Fe: Sounds of Summer

Standing, clapping, dancing and cheering — there’s more than one way to appreciate a terrific performance. Once you’re in-the-know, you’ll have more than one historic Santa Fe spot for discovering the musical pleasures of the season. Since I’m totally Tuned Into Santa Fe, I’ve written your summer score, complete with notes on the scene.

Let’s Go Lensic

The Lensic Theater in its youth, circa 1934. (Photo Credit: Palace of the Governors Photo Archives)
The Lensic Theater in its youth, circa 1934. (Photo Credit: Palace of the Governors Photo Archives)

Santa Fe’s outpost origins meant foresight and originality were necessities. Nowhere is this more evident than the place that mixes mariachi music with 100-piece orchestras: The Lensic Center for the Performing Arts.

Built in 1930 by immigrant merchant Nathan Salmon and son-in-law E. John Greer, the Lensic quickly became a Depression-era social hub for inexpensive escape. Named through a contest requiring either a Spanish-sounding name or one incorporating the initials of Salmon’s grandchildren, the Lensic awarded Mrs. P. J. Smithwick a $25 prize for combining all six initials into a clever acronym alluding to a movie projector lens.

Performers come in all sizes at the Lensic. (Photo Credit: The Lensic Center for the Performing Arts)
Performers come in all sizes at the Lensic. (Photo Credit: The Lensic Center for the Performing Arts)

Recognized by the National Trust for Historic Preservation as one of Save America’s Treasures, the Lensic hosts 200-plus events every year. Best-of-Broadway stars, local youth dance companies, professional ballet and flamenco troupes, and a host of comedians all wind their way into the wings.

The Santa Fe Symphony and Chorus fills the stage at the Lensic. (Photo Credit: Santa Fe Symphony and Chorus)
The Santa Fe Symphony and Chorus fills the stage at the Lensic. (Photo Credit: Santa Fe Symphony and Chorus)

Summer welcomes the renowned Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival and the New Mexico Jazz Workshop hits the boards in July. So as we say in Santa Fe, meet me at the Lensic!

Set Your Sights on the Sounds of the Santa Fe Opera

My two most perfect months of summer started for me with a back-when stint ushering in the old theater.

From humble beginnings, the mighty Santa Fe Opera company grew to world-class renown. (Photo Credit: The Guilds of the Santa Fe Opera)
From humble beginnings, the mighty Santa Fe Opera company grew to world-class renown. (Photo Credit: The Guilds of the Santa Fe Opera)

Old theater, you ask? This pioneering company began with one man’s notion of a site for singers to don new roles and enhance existing ones with ample rehearsal time in a secluded setting; the close-knit family atmosphere continues. His mission included a program to nurture young talents transitioning from academic life to professional opera. Today, founder/conductor John Crosby’s vision has become one of the world’s most unique opera venues, a place where careers begin, break-out roles are created, and premieres are the norm.

But back to the theater … Early patrons watched from open-air wooden benches on the grounds of a former guest ranch. A Time magazine article on the 1957 Madame Butterfly opening noted: “… traffic on the big four-lane Santa Fe–Taos highway was fin to fender.” Such enthusiastic support was critical 10 years later, when early morning flames engulfed the theater. Scheduled performances took place in a school gym and a national campaign to rebuild was launched. One year later a new, improved theater opened with a comeback performance of Puccini’s Butterfly.

With a new theater in 1967, the Santa Fe Opera came back to life. (Photo Credit: Eduardo Fuss, Archives Center for Southwest Research at UNM University Library)
With a new theater in 1967, the Santa Fe Opera came back to life. (Photo Credit: Eduardo Fuss, Archives Center for Southwest Research at UNM University Library)

Despite the magical outdoor setting, the new theater was still open to the elements and patrons beat a retreat during summer showers. In 1994, SFO decided the swift sell-out of rain ponchos had to end and plans were made for a full roof. The 1998 opening night unveiled the company’s third house with — you guessed it — Madame Butterfly.

Third time’s a charm and now patrons marvel at the architectural artistry as well as the artistry onstage. And there’s artistry in the time-honored tailgate tradition. White tablecloths, candles and champagne flutes delight, but a pair of chairs works perfectly with a pre-ordered Opera picnic.

All it takes to tailgate at the Santa Fe is a chair but the sky’s the limit!
All it takes to tailgate at the Santa Fe is a chair but the sky’s the limit!

For deeper understanding, I recommend the preview dinner with wine and an informative lecture over dessert. If you’re like me, indulge in an opening night dinner, an elegant experience for dressing in your evening finery.

BTW, opera attire runs the gamut from jeans to Jean Paul Gaultier, so all fashionistas are welcome to strut their stuff at any of the six new productions opening June 27 with Bizet’s Carmen. Watch the sun setting in all its glory, and no matter your fashion, food or favorite aria, I promise a night you’ll never forget!

Strike Up the Santa Fe Bandstand

My summer budget includes the aforementioned experiences, so I’m super-psyched when the goodness is gratis, thanks to the Santa Fe Bandstand. I can’t think of a better place than the leafy, historic Santa Fe Plaza to mix and mingle over music. The Bandstand brings two months of amazing almost-nightly performances, all genres and all absolutely free. Imagine that! On second thought, don’t imagine, just do it!

The Santa Fe Plaza Bandstand is where the summer action is!
The Santa Fe Plaza Bandstand is where the summer action is!

Local bands let loose for loyal fans and you’ll see me June 23 for opening night with the Mil-Tones Brass Band. The Mil-Tones are followed by Zydeco master Terence Simien, and the bontemps will definitely roulez. I’ve been practicing my cumbia and samba for the mix of dance-worthy Latin bands on tap, so I’ll be rhythmically ready when Son Como Con takes the stage.

The series is decked with dance delights and the crowd shifts happily to make space for newcomers. Feet will fly for the Agalu African drummers; I’ve tuned up with Saturday classes at the Railyard Performance Center. I’m still honing my swing-dance steps but I have the future in mind. And if you simply want to watch, traditional New Mexico folkloric dance comes alive with Baile Espanol as does flamenco via the Maria Benitez Youth Dance Troupe. You’ll find the likes of Joe King Carrasco, crowned a perennial favorite in these parts for righteous rockin’, occasionally pairing with up-and-coming Santa Fe Opera stars.

Joe King Carrasco rules the Santa Fe Plaza with a guitar, not a scepter.
Joe King Carrasco rules the Santa Fe Plaza with a guitar, not a scepter.

Rockers, blues singers, jazzmen, and bluegrass pickers, they’re all here. There’s simply something for everyone, with circus acts like Wise Fool and Clan Tynker and even some noontime concerts. No foolin’, be wise and dip into this summer treat. Grab the family and a picnic blanket, mucho fun awaits. After all, I did say almost nightly.

Get in the Santa Fe Mood for Music and More

Summer comes just once a year, and when it does, you’ll find me here. I’ll be home, home on the range in Santa Fe, taking part in all the sounds of the City Different. Let our city-full slate of live performances set the musical mood for your getaway. Santa Fe is definitely the place to find a summer seat waiting just for you!

 

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